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Below is the general template we use and recommend at Forge Gym. There is a lot of possible variation but the overall template remains the same.
Each training day consists of 1 primary movement, 1major assistance movement and then general assistance work.
The overall scheme looks like this:
General assistance work
General assistance work
General assistance work
Primary lifts are rotated whenever progress slows down, usually every 2-6 weeks.
Major assistance exercises are chosen based on where we are weak in the classical lifts (bench, squat, deadlift in Powerlifting) or in events (Strongman). If you cannot identify a specific weakness in an event or classical lift then train the movement patterns that you are weakest in.
General assistance work is geared towards building muscle tissue in the correct places to facilitate improvement in the Primary lift.
At time although the focus is on “lower” or “Upper” body there may be quite a lot of crossover between the 2 days. This is especially true in Strongman when the events typically involve the whole body.
Set and Rep Schemes
There are several options for set and rep schemes for the primary movement and the major assistance exercise as follows:
Primary Movement set and rep scheme
Work up to 1, 2 or 3 rep max. Ensure that between 4 and 10 repetitions in total are performed at 90% of 1 rep max or above.
For example if 1 rep max is 100kg then warmup to a 1 rep max might look like this:
60x8, 70 x5, 80x 3, 90x 2, 95 x 1, 100x1
That gives 4 reps at or above 90% 1RM, which is fine.
However if you warmed up 60x8, 70x5, 80x3, 90x1, 100 x 1 then that is only 2 lifts at or above 90% 1RM. You would then need to perform at least a further 2 reps eg 90x2, or 95 x 1 and 90 x1.
Over time you should aim to increase the number of lifts performed at or above 90% 1RM in the primary movement. You can do this by performing additional sets of 1, 2 or 3 reps after the maximum attempt, or by taking more single reps in your warmups. If progress on a primary lift stalls then adding additional lifts at 90% or more should be the first thing you do.
Primary Movement Cycles
If the primary movement is done with straight weight (ie no bands or chains) then there is no cycle. Just warmup as per above and break records. If after a few workouts you can’t break your record in the primary lift then rotate it out and begin afresh with a new one.
If you are using bands or chains on your primary lift then there are a view options for cycles. For info on setting up bands and chains see our YouTube video “Forge Gym – Bands and Chains”.
The first option is to keep the band tension the same and add bar weight every week. Start with around 80-85% of your 1RM. For example a 300kg deadlifter would use the following weights:
Week 1 – 250kg + purple bands
Week 2 – 260kg + purple bands
Week 3 – 265kg +purple bands
Start with a single with 85% 1RM bar weight and enough band tension to take that to 100% at the top of the movement:
Week 1 – 85% + Light band (total load = 100% at the top)
Week 2 – 85% +moderate band (total load = 105% at the top)
Week 3 – 85% + high band tension (total load = 110% at the top)
If using Reverse Bands then aim to be taking 90% or your best lift at the bottom position, but locking out with 110% + at the top. So bar weight should be 110% of your 1RM and then the Reverse Band should be set up to take that down to 90% of 1RM. The height of the reverse band hook and the size of band used will determine the reduction in load at the bottom position. To work out how much load the reverse band is removing at different peg heights just load the bar through the band and slowly add weight, allowing it to hang in the air. When there’s enough weight to JUST keep the bar on the floor, that is how much load the band is removing from the total weight.
For example if your maximum deadlift is 220kg:
Week 1 - 245kg on the bar. Reverse band set up to remove 45kg of tension. The resistance is now 200kg at the bottom and 245kg at the top.
Week 2 – Add bar weight OR move the band peg down 1 position to reduce the reverse band tension whilst keeping the bar weight the same.
Week 3 – Add bar weight again or move the band peg down another position whilst keeping the bar weight the same.
If using deficit deadlifts (ie Deadlifts performed standing on plates or a block to increase the range over movement) then start with a small increase in the range (ie standing on a single 20kg plate) and build up to a 3RM. Repeat this for 3 weeks trying to increase loading each time, then increase the deficit by the smallest possible margin (putting a 5kg thin bumper plate under the 20kg plate) each week whilst trying to maintain the 3 rep max load for 1, 2 or 3 reps.
On any Primary Lift done with bands or chains do not go above 120% or your 1RM at the top. There is NO POINT in using band tensions that result in massive loading at the top when you are never going to move close to that loading in the rest of the range of movement. The same goes for partials movements like rack pulls. Do not go above 120% or your 1RM in the full movement. If you can get up to 120% easily then adjust the rack height to one where you find it as hard or harder than pulling from the floor / full squatting / full pressing. Basically, try to train the range where you are weak and do not excessively overload the top end of movements where most people are stronger anyway. The only exception to this is if you are training for the Silver Dollar Deadlift strongman event, in which case the bar will always be 18 inches off the floor.
5 sets of 5
8 sets of 3
10 sets of 1 (only to be used with deficit deadlifts or with heavy accommodating resistance)
10 sets of 2
Pyramid of sets of 10, 8, 5 then 3 reps.
Wave Loading sets of 6 reps alternated with sets of 1 rep.
For the first 4 of these schemes start with a fixed load that enables you to complete all the scheduled reps, then add 2.5% or more to the bar weight each week. Loading should NOT be maximal here. Loading should be between 75 and 85% 1RM before any accommodating resistance (bands or chains) is counted and you should be able to get all the reps without grinding through any of them. They will be “hard” but never as hard as the Primary lift.
For the pyramid scheme try and set new rep PR’s where possible, ie, use the heaviest weight you can that day for the rep targets.
For the wave loading scheme keep the 1 rep sets as a fixed load between 85 and 95% 1RM. For the 6 rep sets done in between start with a relatively easy set and then add weight each time until you hit a 6 rep max for that day.
On Lower Body days if either the primary movement OR the major assistance movement makes use of accommodating resistance (bands or chains) then the other lift must be straight weight. If chains or bands are used on the first lift then the 2nd lift must be straight weight. If the first lift is straight weight then the 2nd lift must use chains or bands. You should NOT perform 2 movements with accommodating resistance in a single session.
Chain / band resistance should add 10-30% of the lifters 1RM in the movement at the “top”. There are various possibilities for cycles of band / chain / straight weight on Primary lift or Major Assistance lift as described above.
On upper body if the Primary lift is a horizontal plane press (ie a bench press variation) then the Major Assistance lift must be a vertical plane (ie overhead press) variation or vice versa.
Rack deadlift from various heights (always below the knee unless Silver Dollar Deadlift for Strongman)
Reverse Band Deadlift
Box Squat (box set 2 inches above parallel, at parallel, 2 inches below parallel or “rock bottom”) with any bar.
Safety Bar Squat
Cambered Bar Squat
Trap Bar Deadlift
Deficit Deadlift / Deficit Trap bar deadlift (standing on 10kg, 15kg, 10+15kg or 15+15kg bumper plates)
Snatch Grip Pulls
Zercher squats (with bar or belt squat machine)
Good Mornings (various bars / stances)
Standing Overhead Press (any bar or log)
Push Press (any bar or log)
Push Press behind neck
Standing Dumbbell Overhead Press
Incline Bench Press
Close Grip bench press
Reverse Grip bench press
Board press (off a 2”, 3” or 4” board)
Floor Press (any bar or dumbbell)
Rack Press from the bottom (from 1” off the chest)
Reverse Band bench press
Log Bar Bench press
Following the Primary lift and the Major Assistance exercise, general assistance exercises will be performed. These should be chosen according to performance on the Primary lift, or if you are training for Strongman then a lot of the time your General Assistance work may be comprised of events.
To proper select assistance exercises you have to take in to consideration both neural factors (joint angle, speed of movement, rate of force development) and what muscles are involved.
For example a sticking point just below the knee in the deadlift can indicate weak hamstrings. In the deadlift the hamstring acts to extend the hips (push your butt forward), so exercises that focus on hip extension with similar joint angles to those found in the deadlift would be most appropriate. Other exercises that do not mimic the same joint angles or muscle function (ie hamstring curls which use the hamstring as a knee flexor) can be used to build muscle tissue and hence facilitate strength gains but they will not have as direct an effect on the Primary lift and so should only be considered an additional exercise done AFTER one that mimics the correct joint angles.
Again using the deadlift as an example struggling as the bar approaches lockout can be corrected by increasing the speed of the bar off the floor and teaching yourself to lock the knees as early as possible by continuing to accelerate the bar as it leaves the floor. The quads play a big role in breaking the bar from the floor and locking the knee, and adding accommodating resistance (bands) teaches the nervous system to continue to produce great force as the joint angle increases.
So, if you are slow off the floor and your lift slows down as you bring the bar past the knee and begin to lockout you need to focus on improving the speed with which you can produce high force from similar joint angles to those at the start of the deadlift, and use accommodating resistance. Leg Pressing from a dead stop at the bottom position (with the pad height, foot stance and knee angle set to mimic the start of the deadlift) against bands is a perfect way to accomplish this.
These are just two examples, if you need help selecting Major Assistance and General Assistance exercises just message the Team Cerberus Facebook page with a video of your major lifts.
Typically we perform 3-6 assistance exercises for 2-6 sets each, and focus on the muscles used in that days primary lift and major assistance exercise. The exception to this is upper back, which is trained in EVERY session.
The set and rep schemes depend upon the aims of the exercise, but broadly speaking this work is designed to build muscle tissue. With this being the aim either the load used or the volume of work done MUST increase over time.
One scheme that allows for both is a “see saw” pattern of increasing volume with static loads followed by decreasing volume and increased loads over 4 weeks. For example:
Week 1 – 2 sets of 12
Week 2 – 4 sets of 12 (increased volume, static load)
Week 3 – 2 sets of 8 (increased load, decreased volume)
Week 4 – 3 sets of 5 (increased load, static volume)
Alternating load and volume like this means muscles are regularly exposed to new stimulus, and so keep growing.
Another option is to use rest pause sets with increased load each week.
Week 1 – 1 set of 15 to failure + rest pauses till 25 reps are completed
Week 2 – 1 set of 10 to failure + rest pauses till 17 reps are completed
Week 3 – 1 set of 8 to failure + rest pauses till 13 reps are completed
Week 4 – 2 sets of 5 with no rest pause.
This gives a lot of high strain reps and as such is good for improving strength whilst building muscle tissue.
For certain exercises such as glute ham raises, chin ups, pull ups, push ups and dips (bodyweight exercises) simply pick a total rep goal and work to increase the total amount of work done in a session. For example:
Week 1 – 20 chinups (in whatever combination of sets and reps you like)
Week 2 – 30 chinups
Week 3 – 40 chinups
Week 4 – 50 chinups
This can also be used as a counterpoint to a weighted version of the movement trained on another training day. For example:
Week 1 session 1 – 20 chinups
Week 1 session 2 – weighted chin-ups 5x5 with 10kg extra weight
Week 2 session 1 – 30 chinups
Week 2 session 2 – weighted chin-ups 5 x 5 with 20kg extra weight
Week 3 session 1 – 40 chinups
Week 3 session 2 – weighted chin ups 5x5 with 25kg extra weight
Week 4 session 1 – 50 chinups
Week 4 session 2 – weighted chin-ups 5x5 with 30kg extra weight
Lastly if pure strength is the goal then even General Assistance exercises can be used for quite low reps.
In your assistance work as a general rule perform exercises for bigger muscle groups first, working down to smaller movements / muscles groups at the end of the session when you are fatigued.
Keep track of the exercises and loads used, and how they relate to your Primary lift. Over time you can draw inferences about your current strength level on any OTHER lift just by looking at your assistance work, and you will begin to see patterns emerge that will help you refine your exercise selection.
Within the standard template there are lot of options for adding additional workouts for general physical preparation, specific physical preparation etc. These can be used to raise work capacity, work on specific muscle weaknesses or abilities or improve recovery from the larger sessions. These Extra Workouts should be shorter and less demanding than the main workouts, and can comprise almost any kind of training. If you are training specifically for Powerlifting then you could perform some lighter or dynamic effort bench pressing on one of these days as well. We have had only limited success with light dynamic benching and believe it is more appropriate for a lifter who uses supportive gear (ie a bench press shirt). A “raw” lifter should do more work with greater percentages of his 1RM on the bench, around 70-85%, still trying to accelerate the bar as hard as possible. It is not advisable to use circamaximal loads (90%+) in an extra workout, nor should bands or chains be used alongside barbell resistance.
A few examples follow, based on specific weaknesses.
These sessions should be low intensity and are often performed in a circuit fashion with high repetitions. Here are a few different examples:
1. Face pull x 15, wide pulldown x 15, rear delt raise x 15. Repeat 2 to 4 times with no rest.
2. Pushups supersetted with tricep pushdowns – 5-10 sets of 10 each.
3. Superset light DB rows with DB presses on a stability ball, don’t count reps just go back and forth for 10 minutes total.
4. Glute ham raises or back extensions – set a weekly target (say 50-100 reps per week in addition to main workouts) then do a few in every extra session will the rep total is met.
5. A single bodypart workout of 3-8 sets of 8-20 reps for anywhere you want to build more muscle tissue.
6. Pressing Stability – hang kettlebells on a shortened band off the edges of the axle bar or a normal bar. Perform sets of bench press, between, 3 and 5 repetitions. This exercise is extremely difficult even with light loads and build excellent stabilising strength in the bench press.
7. Heavy side bends with dumbbells, standing abs with rope cable, light suitcase deadlifts – 3-5 sets of 5-20 reps each
1. 10 metre Prowler pushes supersetted with 10 metre duck walks. No rest in between sets. Start light and add 20kg to the duck walk each time until you cannot complete either the Prowler push or the Duck walk.
2. Sandbag Circuit. Using a light Cerberus Sandbag do various carries, loads, overhead presses, lunges, step ups, cleans etc for 15-20 minutes with minimal rest.
3. 50 Heavy Kettlebell swings alternated with 50 knee raises.
4. Farmers Walks over 10m supersetted with 10 rep Tyre flips (light!) for 3-4 sets.
1. Shoulder Saver – L-flyes, band Cuban presses, band dislocates and plate rotations performed in a high rep (20 reps plus) circuit for 2 or 3 repeats.
2. Battling Ropes - Steady pace for 5-10 minutes, aiming to use as many different movement patterns as possible.
3. Any 4 mobility exercises or stretches (picked depending on where you are tight) worked repeatedly in a circuit fashion for 10-15 minutes in total.
4. Sled Walk – VERY slight loaded dragging in a variety of postures (forwards, backwards, bent over with hands between the feet, rowing the sled in towards the body then stepping backward, pressing the sled forward using ropes etc. As with the Battling Ropes, try to use as many different movement patterns as possible.
You can of course mix a few of these together to create a workout that lasts around 45 minutes but is relatively non-demanding. For instance you say you are struggling to get through the main workout each week, miss your bench presses half way up and have difficulty hitting depth with an upright posture at the bottom of the squat; you might do an extra session comprising some sled dragging for work capacity, then work for triceps and finish with mobility work for your hips, ankles and pectorals. As always it comes down to identifying what needs to improve, and then doing the right work to improve it!
DO NOT jump in to training extra workouts every day if you are used to only training 3-4 times a week. Add one session, make it a small, easy one, and SLOWLY increase from there. If you do too much work too early, rather than enhancing your work capacity these extra sessions will hamper your recovery and lead to overreaching and fatigue. You must do only a little more than your body is used to at any one time.
(This particular example is focused on increasing the deadlift, with a lifter who misses just below the knees, indicating slow speed off the floor and weak hamstrings. In the bench press the triceps are the weak point, with lifts missed half way up).
Reverse Band Deadlift up to 1RM as per Band cycle
Front Squats – 8 x 3
General assistance work
Glute ham raises – 6 x Max reps
Pendlay Rows – 5 x 8
Hamstring curls – 2 x 8
Calve raises – 2 x 15+
Standing abs with cable – 2 x 12
Duck walk – 60kg up to 200kg for 10 metres, adding 20kg each repeat.
Seated straight leg Barbell Goodmornings – 3 x 12
T-bar rows, Pulldowns, Rear delt raises, Dumbbell shrugs – 3 x 12-15 each.
45 deg GHGR – 3 x 12
Leg Raises x 50 total reps
Reverse Grip Bench Press up to 1RM.
Dumbbell Overhead Press 5 x 5
General assistance work
Close grip Bench – 4 x 12
Decline close Grip Bench Press - 4 x 12
Curl grip front raises with DB – 3 x 8-12
Lateral raises – 3 x 8-12
Face Pulls – 3 x 12
Pushups - 3 sets supersetted with Pushdowns – 3 sets
30 minutes mobility work and cuff work (static hamstring stretches, spiderman drill, shoulder horn, Cuban presses, external rotation, high band pull aparts, high rep face pulls) 100 reps pushdowns, 100 push ups on gymnastics rings, 100 reps total of Grappler rotate and press.
Box Squat with Deadlift Stance against bands – work up to 3RM as per band cycle.
Deficit Trap Bar Deadlift standing on plates– 10 x 2 (as per deficit cycle)
General assistance work
Paused Leg Press against bands – 4 x 6
Zercher Squat on blet squat machine – 3 x 12-20
Barbell Glute Bridges – 3 x 8-12
Glute ham raises – 3 x max
45 degree back extensions against bands – 30 reps total
Pressing, Upper back and biceps
Dumbbell Decline Bench Press – 4 x 5-8
Chinups – 50 reps total
Tri-set of Rear delt machine, T bar row wide grip, and pulldowns with wide, neutral grip. 4 x 8-20
Rope triceps extensions overhead – 3 x 12
Dumbbell rolling tricep extensions – 3 x 12
Dumbbell curls 5 x 15/12/10/8/6
“Up and out” Dumbbell shrugs – 4 x 12-20
(Offseason, with a lot of event and technique work used in the Assistance Work)
Deadlift with Chains to 2RM, then straight weight Deadlift for 2 x 5, 2 x 3 and 1 x 10+ rep back off sets.
Stone or Sandbag Loading to a platform – few light attempts then 4-8 sets of 1-3 reps with maximal load.
General assistance work
Supinated grip Bent Over Row – 5 x 5
Pulldowns – 4 x 15,12,8,6
Kettlebell Hammer curls – 4 x 12,10,6,4
Machine Preacher curls – 3 x max reps (this athlete just put the pin at the bottom of the stack and reps out three times over). Reps are 10+
Log Clean and Press – 1 clean, 2 presses. Work up to max weight.
“1 motion” log clean and press – 5 x 3
General assistance work
Carrying Medley – carry sandbag, atlas stone and Wedge Stone for 3 trips of 20 metres each.
Incline Bench Press – 5x5
Close Grip Board press – 3 x 8-12
Gymnastic Ring Pushups – 3 x 8-12
Tri sets of lateral raise, front raise, rear delt raise. Do 5 reps of each, repeat 5 times through.
Front Squat to 2RM.
High Bar back squat – 5 x 5
General assistance work
Farmers Walk 10m supersetted with duck walk 10m – 4 sets working up in weight till cannot complete one of the carries.
Supinated Grip pulldown – 3 x 15-20
Face Pull – 3 x 15-20
Push Press – 5 x 3
Tri set of leg extensions, leg curls and calve raises – 10 to 20 reps each, repeat 4 times through.
As you can see from the 2 programs above there is enormous scope for variation within this template. Different athletes with different goals, available time and strengths / weaknesses will train very differently but the core aspects of heavy low rep sets, the use of accommodating resistance and the training of each body part multiple times per week remain in place. If you are planning a program DO NOT DEVIATE from those core principles.
Owner of the Forge Gym and Fit-Ness Supplements. Promoter of the Caledonian Combat MMA event. Gavin also organises Highland's Strongest Man, now in its 3rd year and now Highland's Strongest Woman. He has spent over 15 years "in the trenches" strength coaching, running gyms and training for Strongman and Powerlifting and has a broad knowledge of both sports training and nutrition.